I have been so excited about doing this interview since I read Susan’s latest book, Corrag. I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy back in January and I honestly haven’t been able to stop raving about it ever since. It is truly one of the most beautiful books that I have ever read. My review for the book Corrag is here.
So what’s Corrag about?
Here is what Amazon says about it: “The Massacre of Glencoe happened at 5am on 13th February 1692 when thirty-eight members of the Macdonald clan were killed by soldiers who had enjoyed the clan’s hospitality for the previous ten days. Many more died from exposure in the mountains. Fifty miles to the south Corrag is condemned for her involvement in the Massacre. She is imprisoned, accused of witchcraft and murder, and awaits her death. The era of witch-hunts is coming to an end – but Charles Leslie, an Irish propagandist and Jacobite, hears of the Massacre and, keen to publicise it, comes to the tollbooth to question her on the events of that night, and the weeks preceding it. Leslie seeks any information that will condemn the Protestant King William, rumoured to be involved in the massacre, and reinstate the Catholic James. Corrag agrees to talk to him so that the truth may be known about her involvement, and so that she may be less alone, in her final days. As she tells her story, Leslie questions his own beliefs and purpose – and a friendship develops between them that alters both their lives. In Corrag, Susan Fletcher tells us the story of an epic historic event, of the difference a single heart can make – and how deep and lasting relationships that can come from the most unlikely places.”
On to the interview with Susan
How did you come up with the idea for the book?
I had always had a strong pull towards the Scottish Highlands, and to Glencoe in particular. Towards the end of my second novel, ‘Oystercatchers’, I finally made my way up to the glen for a few days. The mountains were more dramatic and beautiful than I could have imagined, so much so that I felt emotional to be amongst them. Then, on my second afternoon there, I visited a local museum. I saw Corrag’s name on the wall, read her story, and I instinctively knew that she was to be the narrator of my third book. It was a surge, an absolute conviction – I’ve never had that feeling before. And that night, in my hotel room, I began to write the book.
Describe Corrag in 3 words
Spiritual, loving, brave.
The way Corrag notices every little detail of nature, embraces it and describes it is so breathtaking that from reading the book I can only assume that you are a nature lover. Is this correct and if so, where are your favourite places?
Thank you for saying that! And yes, I adore nature. I’ve always felt calmer and happier outside. In general, I love woods and mountains. More specifically, nowhere comes close to Glencoe. There is a rock high up in the glen which I would take my notebook and a flask of coffee up to, and I’d sit there and just look. I’ve seen deer from there, and eagles, and there is so much sky! Several scenes in the book were written up there, and far more of it was conceived in that spot, or near it. Of all the beautiful places, I think that’s the best of all.
Did your opinion of what happened in Glencoe in 1692 change at all while researching and writing the book?
I knew very little about the Massacre before researching it. I only knew – wrongly – that it was Campbells murdering MacDonalds, and not much more. But the reality is far more complicated than that. Many people were involved or implicated, and whilst the murders were dreadful, the truth is that day-to-day clan warfare brought about far more deaths than those that happened in Glencoe that night. We know about the Massacre because of its deceit (it was ‘Murder Under Trust’) and its political ramifications, more than anything else. It fuelled Jacobitism, and changed allegiances.
What were the easiest and the hardest thing about writing Corrag?
All the research was tricky! I wanted to portray the Massacre as accurately and fairly as I could – for there are many misconceptions about what happened, even to this day. I also felt nervous writing about real people, as there’s an element of responsibility there: I didn’t want to paint a person in a dubious light unless there was evidence to support it. The easiest part about writing the book was writing about nature – about my character’s love of it. It meant I had no choice but to sit in beautiful places, to watch the minutiae of the natural world for hours in the name of ‘research.’ I had half-an-hour of watching a bumble bee visit foxgloves, writing down how it looked and sounded, and knowing that Corrag would have loved such a thing. I remember thinking how blessed I was, to have such a job!!
Where is your favourite place to write?
That rock above the glen is my favourite, by far – but not in the rain! If I’m using a notepad, then I love being in coffee shops, making notes. If I’m typing, then it’s at home – sometimes even in bed! (The Massacre scene was mostly written in bed – it was a sad and challenging scene to write, and I somehow felt safer there.)
Are you working on anything else now and can you give us any little tidbits?
It’s very early days and I am always reluctant to give too much away – as things change so quickly, at this stage. But I’ve always had a novel in me that starts off in Africa. I’m researching around that, just now.
You’re about to be stranded on a dessert island and can only take 3 books with you. What do you take?
It would have to be books of hope and reassurance – nothing gloomy! Mary Oliver’s poetry is full of both these things – so I would take her Selected Poems. Then, perhaps, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. I’ve read it many times over, but it’s still humorous, beautiful and profound. And I’d finish with Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes – neither a novel nor poetry, but rather a book that celebrates womanhood, nature, instinct, and which I always turn to when I’m feeling in need of guidance. It would keep me happy and strong until the boat arrived!
Have you ever read a book and thought “Damn! I wish I’d written that”?
All the time! Most recently I wished I’d written Philip Hoare’s Leviathan – an incredible study of man’s relationship with the whale. It’s both mournful and beautiful, and my head was full of whales for weeks afterwards…!
If you could travel back in time for one year anywhere in the world, what year would you choose and where would it be?
It would have to be the Scottish Highlands in 1691 – I’d want to meet all these people I’ve spent the past two years imagining.
Finally the quick fire round:
Favourite colour: All of them – honestly. Couldn’t pick one.
Favourite animal: Too many! Ducks, owls, hedgehogs…
Favourite holiday destination: Scotland (I’m in love with it), and I hear Bali’s pretty nice.
Favourite aurthor: Don’t have one. Sorry…
Favourite song: There’s a lovely combination of Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World, sung by a man with a banjo (I can’t remember his name!). It’s joyous and bouncy and sweet. It’s what I’d like to have played at my funeral so that people could walk out with a smile.
Favourite movie: Amelie and The Thin Red Line.
Favourite childhood memory: Crab-fishing with my brother near Christchurch, Dorset, and tipping up the bucket onto the pier when the boat came in. All those people squealing as the crabs ran over their feet! Naughty but brilliant.
Want to know more?
Here is a link to a podcast that Susan did over at Fifth Estate – it’s a short interview but really interesting and definitely worth listening to.
I also came across this on Love Reading yesterday – Susan is the Guest Editor for March and disucsses her favourite authors and books.
You can check out more reviews etc on Amazon too.
Thank you so much to Susan Fletcher for joining me for this interveiw, and to Fifth Estate for organising it. I truly adored this book and highly recommend it as one you pick up soon. If you enjoy historical fiction, lyrical fiction, feel-good books then you will love this. For anyone who appreciates beauty in the written word then this is for you.